Small, black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, transmit Lyme Disease.
The tall grasses, brush and wooded areas throughout Western Maryland prove fertile ground for the blood-sucking external parasites, but Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties saw the least of an increasing number of reported Lyme Disease cases in the state, said Dr. Robert Parker, health officer at the Washington County Health Department.
Statewide, the number of reported Lyme Disease cases jumped from 659 in 1998 to 899 in 1999, an increase of 36 percent, according to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Yet Washington County health agencies reported only two cases of confirmed Lyme Disease last year and one case in 1998, Parker said.
Allegany and Garrett counties reported no cases, he added.
"There's clearly a geographical link," but it's not understood, Parker said.
Though it's not proven, some researchers attribute the statewide increase in cases to warmer winters and larger deer populations. Deer are major tick hosts, Parker said.
Western Maryland has black-legged ticks, and some of those parasites have tested positive as carriers of Lyme Disease, he said.
"It may be that the ticks in our area are not as highly infected, or it may just be a matter of time before we become part of the epidemic," Parker said.
The disease is under-reported by as much as double nationwide, and there is some concern that it may also be under-diagnosed in Western Maryland, he added.
Strict reporting criteria from the Centers for Disease Control also impact case numbers. Two "suspicious" cases in 1999 didn't meet all the criteria so weren't included in Washington County statistics, Parker said.
Everybody - especially people who spend a lot of time outside - should take precautions against tick bites, he said.
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